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Amendment to hate crimes law clears General Assembly
by Matt Simonette
2015-05-24

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The Illinois State Senate, on May 20, unanimously passed an amendment to the state's hate crimes statutes that advocates say—if the legislation is signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner—will help protect LGBT institutions from vandalism as well as ensure that transgender Illinoisans are better protected under those statutes.

The bill, HB 3930, unanimously passed the House on April 16. It was initially filed by state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, but state Rep. Sam Yingling later became the chief sponsor there; its chief sponsor in the Senate was state Sen. Daniel Biss.

HB 3930 adds to the institutional vandalism statute damage inflicted on a church, synagogue, mosque, cemetery, mortuary, school, educational facility, community center or similar structures because of the perceived sexual orientation of an affiliated group or person; that vandalism component was missing from previous versions of the hate crimes statutes including sexual orientation, according to advocates.

But HB 3930 also changes the definition of "sexual orientation" utilized in the state's hate crimes statutes; previously the term was used to refer to a person's being either heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual. Now, the hate crimes law will reference the definition used to enforce the state's Human Rights Act; that definition more specifically includes a person's gender identity.

Gender identity has not been specifically mentioned in Illinois' hate crimes statutes, though authorities have prosecuted hate crimes against transgender individuals by including gender identity in the sexual orientation category. HB 3930 codifies that inclusion with the reference to the Human Rights Act.

"'Sexual orientation' means actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, or gender-related identity, whether or not traditionally associated with the person's designated sex at birth," reads the Human Rights Act.

Both Cassidy and Yingling said that the change would bring about more consistency between enforcement of the hate crimes laws and anti-discrimination laws.

"The attorneys we consulted with believed consistency would be a better solution," Cassidy explained. "It was a matter of getting that definition into law so that more people would be protected."

Yingling added, "It's important to recognize that transgender individuals are now covered. They are not yet mentioned specifically [in the Hate Crimes statutes], but they enjoy the same benefits. I think the strategy of linking the definitions was the best one."

Both Equality Illinois and the Anti-Defamation League lobbied for the bill's passage. Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov called the bill's unanimous passage in both houses "common sense," adding, "Whether they are Democrat, Republican, liberal or conservative, I think the legislators know that if one part of our society suffers, we all suffer. … We wanted to make sure that one definition, as it applies to the LGBT community, is used consistently in Illinois law."

Lonnie Nasatir, ADL's regional director of the Greater Chicago/Upper Midwest area, said that HB 3930 was "a step in the right direction" towards better enforcement of hate crimes against transgender individuals, facilitating better data collection, for example. "It gives us a much better snapshot of the situation."

Alan Spellberg, head of the Cook County State's Attorney's Criminal Appeals Division, who also serves on the State's Attorney's Hate Crime Prosecution Council, said, "This is a more modern reading that is much more clear and specific with the cross-language. Our office is committed to full-inclusion and will make every effort to ensure that all persons are covered."

Michael Theodore, a spokesperson with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, which enforces the Human Rights Act, said, "We have not encountered any difficulties with the definition of sexual orientation as it exists in the Human Rights Act. While the definition of sexual orientation encompasses gender identity, a discrimination complaint based on either protected status is differentiated during our investigation."

Cassidy introduced a hate crimes amendment specifically mentioning gender identity in 2012, but the bill languished in committee.

Now HB 3930 heads to Gov. Rauner's desk, where it will be the first piece of LGBT-related legislation he does or does not sign. Cherkasov said, "This hate crimes bill passed with complete support in both houses, so I fully expect that Governor Rauner will sign it."


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